Friday, July 30, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #41

41. The Hunt For Red October (1990)

Towards the end of the Cold War, there was a move in books and films to show a more humanistic quality to both sides of the many years of virtual standoff between the United States and the Soviet Union. Tom Clancy, a master novelist when it comes to international political thrillers, published one of his finest novels in 1984 and it was one of his first books to feature his now famous hero, Jack Ryan. It also was the first novel to be published under the U.S. Navy's publishing label. The book was an immediate commercial and critical success. In 1990, Paramount Studios released the film adaptation of the novel. The film starred Sean Connery in the crucial role of Soviet Captain Marko Ramius and featured Alec Baldwin as Jack Ryan. Connery (who had just come off an Oscar win for Brian de Palma's The Untouchables) has a steely, cold demeanor for Ramius that absolutely serves the character. The story is of how Ramius, in his powerful nuclear submarine the Red October, has gone silent and both the United States and Soviet governments want find him (the U.S. to investigate and interrogate him and the Soviets to just stop him from defecting). The way Connery plays it is that we, the audience, do not really know what he is up to until that crucial moment about 45 minutes into the film (no spoilers people!). And Baldwin's charming deameanor (let's face it, he is the talented Baldwin!) plays off of Connery extremely well. The film also features great supporting performances from Sam Neill, Scott Glenn, Tim Curry and the always amazing James Earl Jones (and his voice you pray to God for!). While the film was not a critical success (including a scathing review by the Washington Post), it was a huge box-office hit and over time has become an audience favorite. It is a great action-thriller that takes us back to the time of Cold War politics and the power to destroy the world in a confined space.

Next Post: #40

The 100 Best Movies: #42

42. Toy Story (1995)

In the early 1990's, the House of the Mouse was on a critical and box-office high. Their animated musicals The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King and #88: Aladdin were massive hits that defined the studio. But Disney would not be Disney if they were satisfied being dominant in one genre. While hand-drawn animation was at its peak, there were new advancements in computer-animated technology pioneered by a small company from the San Francisco Bay Area named Pixar Animation Studios. Led by animator John Lasseter, Pixar had made several animated shorts (some produced by Disney and some for Sesame Street) and the company decided to make the move towards animated features. Their first film started an animated revolution that has produced 11 feature films for Disney (and a style that has trickled down into other studios like DreamWorks SKG and 2oth Century Fox).

Released in 1995, Toy Story was a critical and box-office smash (much like Disney's hand-drawn musicals of the time). One of the things that was most beloved about the film was the cleverness of the story and screenplay. The film's story comes from the idea of what a child's toys do when he is not in the room. The conflict arises when the child's favorite toy, a Cowboy-doll named Sheriff Woody (voiced perfectly by Tom Hanks), feels he is being replaced by the boy's new Astronaut Action Figure, Buzz Lightyear (voice of the hilarious Tim Allen). The writing is smartly done and the animation is quite extraordinary (considering this was Pixar's first animated feature). The characters are completely well-defined and have become beloved over the last decade (thanks to two very well-done sequels). The music by Randy Newman (centered around his song "You've Got a Friend in Me") has become an anthem for the Disney/Pixar brand. It is a very delightful film that is fun for people of all ages and helped the Walt Disney Studio explore beyond their successful musical genre.

Next Post: #41

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #43

43. The Dark Knight (2008)

Inspired by the mega-success of the Marvel Comic Book movies of the early 2000's (X-Men, Fantastic Four and #84: Spider-Man), DC Comics (with the help of Warner Brothers) decided it was time to give a recharge to their greatest heroes. For the Batman franchise, writer-director Christopher Nolan (who had amassed a great critical following after his sleeper hit Memento in 2000) made the series over with Batman Begins in 2005. The film was a great success both with critics and with audiences. In the 2005 film, Nolan dealt more with Batman's origins and less with the specific villains that terrorized Gotham City (the major villain in the movie was the emotion of fear itself). For an introductory film (or, in this case, a re-intorductory film), Batman Begins was a very good one, but it is Nolan's 2008 follow-up that makes it onto this list because of its realistic characters, its riveting storyline (by Christopher Nolan and his brother Jonathan) and, most importantly, its spellbinding performances.

Christopher Nolan had done a good job in casting in his first Batman film (mostly). For the second one, he used a lot of the same cast members that made the first one so good: Christian Bale as Bruce Wayne/Batman, Michael Caine as Alfred, Morgan Freeman as Lucius Fox and Gary Oldman as Jim Gordon (a rare time to see Oldman as a hero!). The newcomers to the second film were Nolan's most inspired choices. Aaron Eckart, who had charmed audiences with performances in movies like Erin Brockovitch and Thank You For Smoking, was a great choice to play the part of Harvey Dent whose tragic circumstances are spelled out in the panels of the comic books. And by replacing the very wooden Katie Holmes with the more engaging Maggie Gyllenhaal in the role of Rachel Dawes, Nolan avoided some of the problems that occurred (at least for me) in the first film. And for the all-important role of the villain, Batman's arch-nemesis: The Joker, Nolan cast a very fine actor who gave the performance of his lifetime (quite literally), Heath Ledger. Ledger had seeped himself into the role of The Joker and his work pays off, at least for the movie. His well-deserved Oscar-winning performance of the maniacal rogue helps make The Joker one of the greatest screen villains of all-time. It is unfortunately marked by the fact that the role disturbed Ledger so much that he lost sleep and died tragically of an overdose of cold medcine and sleeping pills. Despite this enormous loss to the world of film, this movie is one of the best comic book movies ever because of its dark story and its amazing performances.

Next Post: #42

The 100 Best Movies: #44

44. Oliver! (1968)

At the time that Charles Dickens was writing his novels and stories, the British Music Hall and operettas by the likes of Gilbert and Sullivan were "the norm" when it came to musical stage productions. This standard stayed around even into the 20th Century right up until the Great Depression and World War II. When American musicals began to become standard (i.e. the Rodgers and Hammerstein shows), British musical producers began searching high and low for shows that could be just as popular as that of their U.S. counterparts. Lionel Bart, who was British pop songwriter in the 1950's, had the idea for a musical based on one of Charles Dickens' most beloved novels, Oliver Twist. British media had felt very protective of one of their most beloved novelists and, at the time, the best adaptation of the novel was David Lean's 1948 film version (starring Alec Guinness). But Bart was determined to get a stage adaptation made.

Bart brought the idea to American producer David Merrick and his British producing partner Donald Alberry. The two had hits on both sides of the Atlantic with shows like Irma La Douce and Stop the World-I Want to Get Off!. Bart convinced them that he could write the songs and the libretto of the show (making him one of the few triple-threat writers on Broadway). The show, titled Oliver!, opened in London in 1960 starring Ron Moody as Fagin, Georgia Brown as Nancy and Davey Jones (later of The Monkees) as The Artful Dodger. The show was a huge critical and box-office success. It became one of the longest-running shows in London's West End (that is until Andrew Lloyd Webber's shows came along). Brown and Jones repeated their London performances in the Broadway production alongside Clive Revill (in the role of Fagin) in 1963 where the show was also a hit. The success in London, on Broadway and in its UK and U.S. tours warranted Hollywood studios to come calling.

Merrick and Alberry sold the film rights to Columbia Pictures because they ensured that the movie would be made by British filmmakers in England. Producer John Woolf enlisted the great film legend Sir Carol Reed to direct the movie. Reed brought his usual dark touch to the sprightly musical especially with casting his nephew, Oliver Reed, as the villainous Bill Sikes. Ron Moody was asked to repeat his West End stage triumph as Fagin and he is an absolute gem in the role. He has the devilish quality necessary for Fagin but just enough musical talent to make him charming and endearing. British pop singer Shani Wallis and child actor Jack Wild were cast as Nancy and The Artful Dodger, respectively. Both of them get some of the best (and most memorable) numbers in the musical and they make the most of it. For the title role, they cast a newcomer named Mark Lester, whose sweet-faced expressions are the heart of the character (I say this now, even though when I was a kid those expressions really bugged me!). The film was a great success (like its stage predecessor) and went on to win several Oscars including Best Picture and Best Director. It is a delightful musical that gets better (for varying reasons) with each viewing.

Next Post: #43

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #45

45. All the President's Men (1976)

This was quite possibly my mother's favorite film of all-time. She loved the cast (especially Robert Redford, Dustin Hoffman and Jason Robards). She loved the subject matter (she was a staunch Democrat who despised Former President Richard M. Nixon). So it is almost a given (at least in my family) that this movie would make it onto the list (and get a pretty high ranking). This movie is a dynamic film filled with political mystery, journalistic intrigue and superb performances. It begins with the infamous break-in at the Watergate building. Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford in one of his finest performances) then tries to get at the root of the crime and researches his story. He is met with witnesses who will not go on record and with scoff from his editors, but his determination impresses editor-in-chief Ben Bradley (Jason Robards in an amazing Oscar-winning performance). Fellow reporter Carl Bernstein (the always great Dustin Hoffman) starts to aide him on the story and helps him find more witnesses (including a poignant cameo from Jane Alexander as a bookkeeper). All of their investigation culminates with finding one secretive, high-up informant nicknamed "Deep Throat" (portrayed by the brilliant character actor Hal Holbrook) and breaking the story that brought down an entire Presidential administration. It is a chilling fact-based drama directed by Alan J. Pakula (Klute, Sophie's Choice) that these days would be relegated to the realm of the television movie. But this film was remarkable with a stunning cast and an intelligent screenplay by William Goldman (Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, The Princess Bride) based on the book by the real Woodward and Bernstein. Every time I view this movie, I understand why my mother (as well as my father and grandmother) loved it so!

Next Post: #44

The 100 Best Movies: #46

46. The King and I (1956)

In 1944, Margaret Landon wrote a semi-fictionalized novel based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, an Englishwoman who traveled to Siam in 1860 to tutor the children of King Mongkut. Landon's novel, Anna and the King of Siam, was a modest success that 20th Century Fox turned into a movie starring Irene Dunne and Rex Harrison. In the late 1940's, British stage star Gertrude Lawrence was looking for a vehicle to return to Broadway. She was fascinated by the story of Anna Leonowens and tried to convince Cole Porter to write a score for her. When he wasn't interested, she tried to enlist her best friend, Noel Coward, who pointed her in the direction of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. The legendary composing team had just had a massive success with South Pacific and Coward told her the Leonowens story was right up their alley. While Rodgers initially wanted to turn it down because of Lawrence's limited vocal range, Hammerstein convinced him the story had great potential and they decided to write for the star. Now all they needed was the King.

One of the first people to audition for the role of the King (after both Coward and Alfred Drake turned it down) was an unknown named Yul Brynner. The composers (who also served as producers) were intrigued by the presence that Brynner had brought to the stage and felt he could best serve the star power that Lawrence brought. The show, titled The King and I (to reference Leonowens' memoirs), opened on Broadway in 1951 and was immediately a smash hit. Critics claimed that Rodgers and Hammerstein had written some of their best songs including "Getting to Know You," "Shall We Dance?" and "Hello, Young Lovers." It won several Tony Awards including Best Musical, Best Actress for Miss Lawrence and Best Featured Actor for Brynner (because he was billed below the title). While the musical was enjoying a great success, Lawrence became seriously ill (liver cancer) and died in the fall of 1952. She had loved being in The King and I so much that her husband Richard Aldrich insisted she be buried in the Irene Sharaff-designed ballgown she wore during the "Shall We Dance?" number.

In 1956, 20th Century Fox (who had a huge success prodcing #98: Oklahoma!) again produced the latest Rodgers and Hammerstein Broadway hit. They insisted on retaining star Yul Brynner in his titular role and started hunting through a long list of actresses to play the part of Anna. Brynner had asked the studio to cast Deborah Kerr, who he had been impressed with in From Here to Eternity. Kerr, with her patrician style, was a perfect choice to set against Brynner's bold bravado. The movie, with its sumptuous sets and its gorgeous costumes (by Irene Sharaff who had designed the Broadway costumes), is a touching story retaining several of Rodgers and Hammerstein's great songs from the stage production. One of the best scenes in the movie (and in the stage musical) is the play the character of Tuptim (beautifully played by Rita Moreno in the film) writes for the banquet, the balletic adaptation the Harriet Beecher Stowe novel: "The Small House of Uncle Thomas" (with some of the best choreography by the great Jerome Robbins). It is a great movie-musical with some great performances especially from Yul Brynner (who won an Oscar for Best Actor to go with his Tony). It also became the role the actor was most associated with throughout his lifetime. SIDE NOTE: Deborah Kerr, while a great actress, had no delusions when it came to her singing. Her voice for the songs was that of the Hollywood dubber Marni Nixon (and this will not be the only time we will hear her voice on this list!).

Next Post: #45

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #47

47. Jaws (1975)

The power that a few musical notes can do for a film can be experienced and verified in this movie's first five minutes. As I have said before (and will more than likely say again), composer John Williams is a genius and, in 1975, he gave the world one of his finest and his most exciting score that would make even Bernard Hermann (Alfred Hitchcock's composer-of-choice) jealous. Masterfully directed by Steven Spielberg and based on Peter Benchley's chilling novel, this movie really did make audiences afraid to go into the water. The story, set on the fictional Amity Island, is about the terror the townspeople face from the mysterious Great White Shark that roams the waters surrounding the isle. The movie (like the novel) gives its audience the sense of fear to the "Nth" degree even when the band of three (played by Roy Scheider, Richard Dreyfuss and the amazing Robert Shaw) tread out on the fishing trawler to hunt the predator down. This was one of Spielberg's first big successes (cementing the tradition of the Summer blockbuster) and his directorial touch (which he has perfected time and time again) cannot be mistaken. But it is Williams' music that gives the audience the thrill and terror that this movie requires. And Spielberg himself would probably be the first to admit it considering all the production problems the mechanical shark (named "Bruce") caused for him and his team. The movie is a first-rate thriller and does its job every time it is viewed.

Next Post: #46

The 100 Best Movies: #48

48. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Idealism and politics are two things in our society that have a lot of trouble going together. Even in director Frank Capra's world, the idealistic young hero is laughed at behind closed doors by the corrupt people in power. In this movie, Capra casts the great Jimmy Stewart as the titular Mr. Smith who is elected Senator from Middle America (Stewart = Everyman in Capra's world). The fresh-faced Smith finds that Washington politics is run by corrupt businessmen and power-hungry senators (NO, REALLY?!?!). He decides to take on "the system" and show that he can stop them from destroying the good in America. Is it a simplistic plot? Yes, but somehow it works. Maybe because it is Frank Capra, we as the audience suspend our cynicism that one person cannot fight the system. Maybe it is because Jimmy Stewart gives quite possibly the best performance of his career (just watch Stewart's Senator Smith filibuster). Maybe it is because the story hits so close to home about corrupt politicians like the senior senator (dynamically played by Claude Rains). Whatever it is that works in this film (personally, I think it is a combination of all factors), the movie is a true classic that shows an idealistic heart can win out over the cynical corrupted system in the end.

Next Post: #47

Monday, July 26, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #49

49. Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981)

Directly from my childhood, we have another movie hero that all little boys of my generation wanted to grow up to be. Indiana Jones (or Harrison Ford, take your pick) is the quintessential archaeologist-turned-adventurer and a great one, thanks to his creators: Steven Spielberg (who directed) and George Lucas (who co-wrote the screenplay). Jones' style is virtually iconic and it is in this first film where audiences get their first taste of him. In this story, "Indy" has to stop the dreaded Nazis from getting their hands on the Ark of the Covenant. The legendary religious symbol becomes a dangerous and mysterious pawn in the plans of the German enemies. Though the historical timeline is a little blurred for dramatic effect, the fact that it is Spielberg and his dynamic touch makes it more palpable and believable for audiences. The action sequences are thrilling (especially with the brilliant John Williams' score) and the "scary" scenes can excite any audience (who could forget the rolling boulder and, of course, the snakes!). The supporting cast, which includes Denholm Elliott, Karen Allen and John Rhys-Davies, are a good ensemble and the film's heart lies with its hero, Harrison "Indy" Ford. It is a phenomenal film that was followed by two very good sequels and a less-than-average sequel/reboot in 2008. Despite the lackluster 2008 film, the Indiana Jones series is still one of my top 5 favorite film franchises of all-time (more on the others later!).

Next Post: #48

The 100 Best Movies: #50

50. To Kill a Mockingbird (1962)

This is another one of my favorite novels of all-time. I first read Harper Lee's stirring novel when I was in junior high school and, of course, I wanted to see the film version. The movie, like the book, left me awestruck. The story (based on Lee's childhood) is about southern lawyer Atticus Finch and his strong relationship with his children, son Jem and daughter Jean Louise (or Scout). Lee, in her novel, perfectly captures the childlike innocence that both Jem and Scout have when experiencing and witnessing the troubles in the southern town. Beautifully adapted for film by the late Horton Foote and charmingly directed by Robert Mulligan, the movie does not lose the feel and movement of the novel. It also has an amazing cast led by one of film history's best actors. It is such a great performance that it is not Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, it is Atticus Finch as played by Gregory Peck. Peck plays the part so well (winning an Academy Award for Best Actor in the process) that actor and role become one. Atticus becomes an extension of Peck. The supporting cast is also quite good including Mary Badham and Phillip Alford as Scout and Jem, respectively. There is also Brock Peters as the accused Tom Robinson, William Windom as the town prosecutor, Alice Ghostley as the children's dotty aunt and (in his film debut) Robert Duvall as the mysterious Boo Radley. This is a great film that deserves watching over and over again for those who have read the novel and even for those who have not.

Next Post: #49

Saturday, July 24, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #51

51. Some Like It Hot (1959)

When the American Film Institute made their list of the 100 Funniest Movies of All-Time, this Billy Wilder gem topped the list and with good reason. The screenplay, by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, is one of the cleverest scripts that utilizes the sight gag of men-in-drag to hilarious effect without becoming tired. The always charming Jack Lemmon and the marvelous Tony Curtis play two bandmates who accidentally witness the St. Valentine's Day massacre. To hide from the mob that is now chasing them, they dress as women and join an all-girl band on tour down in Florida. The hilarity, in addition to coming from the male-in-female-clothing angle, also comes from the potential love story as Curtis' saxophone player falls for the lead singer of the band (played delightfully by the extremely sexy Marilyn Monroe). The antics are classic (especially Jack Lemmon's female alter-ego being wooed by a millionaire) and the performances are comedic legends. Wilder, who was just as good at directing dramas (like Sunset Boulevard and Double Indemnity) as he was at comedies (like this one and The Apartment), gives his cast the perfect words and the perfect direction. He proved himself over and over again as a master writer-director in Hollywood. This film belongs in anyone's catalogue and is a great movie for the halfway point on our list!

Next Post: #50

The 100 Best Movies: #52

52. The Bridge On the River Kwai (1957)

This is another one of my father's all-time favorite films. He was the one who introduced it to me. Seriously, he loves this movie (must be all the whistling)! And I have to admit it, my dad has good taste. David Lean's Oscar-winning World War II adventure is a true classic. The film tells the story of a British regiment of soldiers captured by the Japanese and forced to hard slave labor in a POW camp. The labor they are told to perform is to build a bridge for the Japanese enemy over the Kwai River. The commander of the regiment feels that the bridge is a perfect opportunity to boost morale amongst his men. In the meantime, an American POW is on a mission to stop the bridge from being built. It is an amazing mix of action, drama and even mystery as William Holden and Alec Guinness lock horns as the American and the British commander, respectively. Guinness (who by far gives one of the finest performances of his career) has some of the best speeches and scenes in trying to motivate his men to build the bridge. The most heartbreaking is the one after he has spent a week in "The Box" and has to get up and walk. Another scene-stealing performance comes from Sessue Hayakawa as the head of the Japanese POW camp (the warden, so to speak). It is a great film that won seven Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor (for the dynamic Alec Guinness). Interesting side note: The screenwriters, Carl Foreman and Michael Wilson, were two of the Hollywood Ten (Blacklisted writers) and so were not allowed by Columbia Pictures to receive screen credit. The screenwriting credit went to the original novelist, Pierre Boulle (he also wrote the Planet of the Apes novel), who did not speak a word of English!

Next Post: #51

Friday, July 23, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #53

53. Blazing Saddles (1974)

As I said in my introduction, I am not a huge fan of westerns. In fact, the very few westerns that are on this list cannot be fully considered westerns in the traditional sense. This movie is probably the greatest western ever and it is also the funniest (an adjective rarely used to describe the genre!). From the comedic-genius mind of Mel Brooks (and co-writers like Richard Pryor), the world of cowboys is turned completely on its ear. And the cast is absolutely superb! Tony Award winner Cleavon Little plays Bart, a railroad worker who, after some scheming by the villain Hedley Lamarr (the hilarious Harvey Korman as a character with one of the funniest names ever), is sent to the town of Rock Ridge to be the Sheriff. Lamarr's plan is that since Bart is black, the townspeople would be so offended they would leave and the town would be up for grabs. But Sheriff Bart wins over the townspeople and fights off Hedley and his ruffians (SPOILER!). It is a great movie with a delightfully charming cast that includes Gene Wilder as The Waco Kid, Mel Brooks as the incompetent Governor and the amazing Madeline Kahn as Lili Von Shtupp (a great send-up of Marlene Dietrich). So "throw out your hands" and "stick out your tush" for this fun movie for both those who love westerns (like my father!) and those who don't (like me!).

Next Post: #52

The 100 Best Movies: #54

54. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

One of the most powerful World War II dramas that was ever on film. The first minutes of the movie transport the audience directly into the graphic intensity of the D-Day landings. Steven Spielberg had tackled aliens, dinosaurs, sharks and even the Nazis, but in 1998 he directed this amazing film (receiving his second Best Director Oscar in the process). The movie tells the story of a band of soldiers (led by the always great Tom Hanks) who have to make it through occupied France to rescue a soldier (the titular Private Ryan) whose three brothers have all been killed in the war. The conflict is not only the soldiers fighting the German enemies, but it is in within the soldiers themselves who question whether or not the mission is worth all the trouble. The band of soldiers is an array of character actors including Tom Sizemore, Edward Burns, Vin Diesel, Adam Goldberg, Giovanni Ribisi and Jeremy Davies. Each actor has given equally good (even great) performances in other films and projects since. Plus there are some intriguing performances from the cameo appearances including Ted Danson and Matt Damon, who plays the role of Private Ryan. The film was a massive summer success and I was privileged enough to see this film with my grandfather, who had fought in France during World War II. It was great to get his impression of the film and how Spielberg had related the soldiers' story. The movie did, unfortunately, lose the Academy Award for Best Picture to #68: Shakespeare In Love. While I consider this one the better movie, I am glad that it was a movie like Shakespeare In Love that won over this film instead of the far inferior The Thin Red Line (also a World War II drama).

Next Post: #53

Thursday, July 22, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #55

55. One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest (1975)

The counterculture movement of the late 1960's produced some of the best art, literature, music and films of the 20th Century. One of those pieces was Ken Kesey's controversial novel about a social dropout who checks himself into a mental institution and stirs up the status quo. The novel was risqué, graphic and a sleeper success. Soon after the release of the novel, it was turned into an Off-Broadway play by Dale Wasserman (writer of Man of La Mancha) and starred Kirk Douglas. In 1975, the United Artists studio purchased the rights to Kesey's novel and Wasserman's script (to be produced by Saul Zaentz and Michael Douglas). Several actors were considered for the part of Randle P. McMurphy, but it was Jack Nicholson who director Milos Forman put his faith in for the lead role. Nicholson's performance (which won him his first Oscar) is his best. With every role he plays, Jack puts in just a little bit (or maybe a lot) of himself and with McMurphy, his method fits so well. There was a long list of actresses that turned down the part of the stern and vicious Nurse Ratched (including Colleen Dewhurst, Anne Bancroft and Angela Lansbury). After several months of auditions, Forman went with an unknown television character actress named Louise Fletcher. Fletcher's bold portrayal of the wicked nurse is so chilling and it garnered her fame, praise and an Oscar (for Best Actress!). The supporting cast is also filled with zany character actors (some of whom had been in the play) including Christopher Lloyd, Danny DeVito, Scatman Crothers and Will Sampson (in the poignant role of Chief Bromden). But the best supporting performance in the film comes from Brad Dourif (later famous for being the voice of "Chucky"), who plays the tragic role of Billy. His portrayal of the shy, frightened young man-child is so important to the heart of the film. It is a great film that, in addition to its leads winning Oscars, also won the three big prizes: Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay (just like #62: The Silence of the Lambs did later).

Next Post: #54

The 100 Best Movies: #56

56. The Music Man (1962)

This is one of my favorite musicals of all-time, so it is extremely natural that its stellar 1962 film adaptation would make it onto this list. The songs, the story, the cast of characters and even its very style are embedded in my memory ever since I first saw the film at a very young age. And the fact that all of it came from the mind of one man, Meredith Wilson, makes it that much more fascinating. Meredith Wilson was born and raised in the small town of Mason City, Iowa. He grew up loving music and eventually made his way to the Julliard School in New York City. After studying under some of the most famous composers and conductors (like John Philip Sousa and Arturo Toscanini), Wilson became a composer himself in Hollywood, where he met (and was mentored by) Broadway legend Frank Loesser. Wilson would entertain him with tales of the people he knew and observed while growing up in Iowa. Loesser insisted to Wilson that those stories would make good material for a musical.

Wilson had tried the idea on several different producers before Loesser got him in touch with producer Kermit Bloomgarten and writer Franklin Lacey. Lacey helped Wilson flesh out a more thorough storyline that would be more palpable to audiences. What they brought before Bloomgarten was the story of a con man who dupes a small Iowa town into believing he will start a boys' marching band. The producer saw the show as a vehicle first for Gene Kelly and later for Danny Kaye. When both stars rejected the idea, director Morton DaCosta had an idea. He took the risk in casting Robert Preston, who had mostly been a film actor in supporting character parts, as con man Professor Harold Hill. The show began rehearsals in the summer of 1957. To give Preston proper musical support (Wilson had written over 40 songs for the musical initially), they surrounded him with some the best dancers, singers and musical-comedy performers on Broadway at the time including the leading lady, Barbara Cook (who had been a critical success the year before in Leonard Bernstein's musical-flop Candide). The show opened in December 1957 at the Majestic Theater and was a massive critical and box-office hit (and Preston became a musical-comedy legend). It received several major awards including the Tony Award for Best Musical (beating the landmark musical West Side Story, which had opened 3 months earlier) and Tonys for both Preston and Cook.

After the huge success of the show, Warner Brothers bought the rights to the movie adaptation. The studio chose to have stage director Morton DaCosta and star Robert Preston repeat their stagework for the film. Preston's perfect performance (say that three times fast!) as Hill is so remarkable (see the above clip!) that it would have been a shame if he had not been cast in the film version (and it is a real shame he was not nominated for an Academy Award, but I digress). For the movie's leading lady, they cast movie-musical star Shirley Jones who, at the time, had just won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for the dramatic film Elmer Gantry. Jones brings the same charm she had brought to #98: Oklahoma! to the role of Marian Paroo, the librarian who teaches piano lessons. Both leads are delightfully supported by a top-notch ensemble that includes the hilarious Buddy Hackett as Preston's sidekick, the scene-stealing Hermione Gingold as Eulalie Mackecknie Shinn (the Mayor's wife) and a young Ronny Howard (long before he was Oscar-winning director Ron Howard) as Winthrop Paroo (the character loosely based on the young Meredith Wilson). The movie-musical was a huge success and is fine representation of the good things about "Small Town America," good-natured and trusting people who look for (and find) the good in others.

Next Post: #55

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #57

57. A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)

In 1947, playwright Tennessee Williams had written a new play about greed, passion, secrets and rape. It was called A Streetcar Named Desire and from its debut performance it was a theatrical legend. The play opened on Broadway in late 1947 and was directed by Elia Kazan, who simultaneously was garnering praise (and courting controversy) as a film director with Gentlemen's Agreement. The original Broadway cast was full of virtual unknowns. Jessica Tandy, Karl Malden and Kim Hunter had all had brief roles in plays both on and off-Broadway. The leading man was hand-picked by Kazan out of Lee Strasberg's famed Actors Studio, a 24-year old Marlon Brando. He brought an intense, carnal nature to the role of Stanley Kowalski so much so that Williams himself was purported to be in love with him. The story of the faded Southern belle Blanche DuBois, her manipulation of Stella (her sister) and her descent into madness (driven their by her brother-in-law Stanley) resonated with audiences. The play was a massive success on Broadway (and subsequently on National Tour and in London) that Hollywood soon came calling.

In 1951, the Warner Brothers studio purchased the film rights to the play and insisted on retaining the same director (as Gentlemen's Agreement had swept the Oscars in 1948). In casting, Kazan fought for his entire Broadway cast, but only Brando had made a film between the Broadway opening and the beginning of filming (Brando starred in The Men in 1950). So, to obtain "name value" for the film, the studio decided that Oscar winner Vivien Leigh (Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind) should play tragic heroine Blanche DuBois (as she had in the London production directed by her husband, Sir Laurence Olivier). Both Karl Malden and Kim Hunter were asked to repeat their stage triumph while Jessica Tandy (who had won a Tony Award for her role) was left in New York. Vivien Leigh does, however, bring a charm and fervor to the role of Blanche and is just perfect in this film (the final scene is one of her best moments onscreen). Brando brings the same power and intensity he must have brought to his stage rendition of Stanley. Kazan and Williams do their very best to stay faithful to what had been done on stage (though because of Production Codes, Williams was forced to change a couple aspects of his script). Leigh, Malden and Hunter (the latter two are just as amazing in their respective roles) each won Academy Awards for their performances. And Brando's performance, though it did not win an Oscar, is full of iconic moments (Hey Stella!!!!!). It is a perfect film adaptation of one of the greatest American plays.

Next Post: #56

The 100 Best Movies: #58

58. Chariots of Fire (1981)

One of the most memorable film scores in history was by Vangelis for this movie. His syntesized composition gives the intensity of the races run in the film. This movie tells the story of the British runners who made their way to the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris. Specifically, the story focuses on two of the athletes. One is Harold Abrahams (played by Ben Cross), an English Jew who, despite discrimination, runs faster than anyone at Cambridge College. And the other is Eric Liddell (played by Ian Charleson), a Scottish Christian missionary who feels running is what God meant him to do. Both athletes stay true to their convictions, even though they come up against opposition from those in power. It is an inspiring and powerful story beautifully directed by Hugh Hudson. The slow-motion pace of the Olympic races (combined with the music) are so moving that the audience roots for the British runners to beat the favored American team. The ensemble cast is quite good especially Ian Holm as Harold's coach, John Gielgud as the snobbish Dean of Cambridge, Patrick Magee as the Lord of the British Olympic Committee and Alice Krige as Harold's actress-girlfriend. The movie was produced by David Putnam (who would later produce The Killing Fields and #73: The Mission) and the executive producer was Dodi Fayed (who was killed in the car crash with Princess Diana in 1997). The film has been considered and hailed as one of the best British films ever and went on to win a handful of Academy Awards including Best Picture.

Next Post: #57

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #59

59. Superman (1978)

While not my favorite comic book superhero (Batman beats Superman for me, HANDS DOWN!), this is the best live-action adaptation of the Man of Steel's story. Was there ever a better Superman than Christopher Reeve? His sweet naivete as Clark Kent and his bold strength as Kent's heroic alter-ego is a wonderful blend that made him the ultimate Superman. Director Richard Donner (the Lethal Weapon series, The Goonies) gives the character and his origin story heart and the action sequences really pack a punch. The cast is also first rate including Margot Kidder as Lois Lane, Jackie Cooper as Daily Planet editor Perry White and (in a brilliantly over-the-top performance) Gene Hackman as the villainous Lex Luthor. Also this film has one of the best star cameos in movie history: Marlon Brando as Jor-El, Superman's father from the planet Krypton. Brando threw himself and his method acting style into the role so well and it is extremely memorable. Plus there is the fantastic Superman theme by John Williams, who remains the greatest film composer of all-time. It is a great movie that gets me excited about a character that is, in my opinion, an overrated superhero.

Next Post: #58

The 100 Best Movies: #60

60. The Secret of NIMH (1982)

This is the best Non-Disney animated film of all-time. If bitterness can yield the most creative successes, then there can be no better examples than the ones created by the people who have left (or been forced to leave) the Disney Studio. Don Bluth began his animation career working as an apprentice animator on some of its most successful films (including Sleeping Beauty and 101 Dalmatians). Later, he moved up to the credited title of animator on Disney films like Robin Hood and The Rescuers in the 1970's. But it was during this decade that he (and several of his fellow animators) were becoming dissatisified with the way the studio was treating their department. In the decade following the death of the titular studio head (Walt Disney passed away in 1967), the company began to pull focus (and budgets) away from their animated films and more towards their live-action films (some of which were successful and some of which were not). The final straw happened when after the very mediocre success of The Rescuers, the studio passed on a project that the animators were excited about: a film based on the novel Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH. So in 1979, Bluth and seven other animators exited their contracts with the studio and began their own animation company.

After a few shorts and an animated sequence for the flop musical-movie Xanadu, the animators decided to pursue their pet project. And what resulted was their magnum opus. The Secret of NIMH became a huge critical and audience success (especially over Disney's The Fox and the Hound, which by Disney standards flopped). The film tells the story of Mrs. Brisby (the name was changed because of a threat from the Frisbee corporation) and her struggle to protect her children from the Farmer who is plowing the field where she lives. Her youngest son, Timothy, is extremely ill and she has been counseled to see the Rats who live in the bush by the farmhouse. Through sheer determination of will, she makes her way to the bush and meets with the intelligent Rats (some of whom are extremely vicious and some of whom are sympathetic). Without spoiling the story for those who have not seen it, what she finds is a world of mystery, science and magic. The story is extremely well-defined and the characters are very well thought out. Some of the most memorable (and frightening) scenes include Mrs. Brisby's visit with the Great Owl and her experience in the farmhouse. The voice cast is marvelous including Elizabeth Hartman, Derek Jacobi, Dom DeLuise and a young Shannen Doherty. The score, by composing legend Jerry Goldsmith, is beautifully haunting. It is a little dark for an animated film, but it is quite enjoyable for the entire family.

Next Post: #59

Monday, July 19, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #61

61. Duck Soup (1933)

This is the Marx Brothers, all four of them, at their best. Groucho plays Rufus T. Firefly who has been named President of the nation of Freedonia by the wealthy Mrs. Teasdale (played perfectly by the Marx Brothers' favorite female co-star Margaret Dumont). Firefly declares his love for her (well, actually, her money) and has competition from Ambassador Trentino (Louis Calhern) of the neighboring nation of Sylvania. Trentino hires two spies (Chico and Harpo) to get all the information they can on Firefly. And the hilarity doesn't stop there! The farcical romp climaxes with Firefly declaring war on Sylvania and what ensues is one of the longest and funniest war declarations ever (with Groucho, Chico, Harpo and Zeppo doing some of their best vaudeville schtick). There are so many additional memorable moments from this film including Firefly's entrance, Chico and Harpo's harassment of a local peanut vendor and the classic "Mirror Scene" between Groucho, Harpo and Chico. Helmed by director Leo McCarey with a screenplay heavily add-libbed by the Marx Brothers, it is a classic comedy that is a must-see for all. Plus, it's a great introduction to the world of the Marx Brothers and their other classic films (Horse Feathers, A Night at the Opera, etc.). NOTE: Released in 1933, this film has the distinction of being the oldest film on my list.

Next Post: #60

The 100 Best Movies: #62

62. The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

Thomas Harris' suspenseful crime novel is a chilling masterpiece in the hands of director Jonathan Demme and screenwriter Ted Tally. FBI Agent Clarice Starling (the amazing Jodie Foster) is on the hunt for a serial killer named Buffalo Bill. In order to discover more about him, she is sent to interview incarcerated serial killer Dr. Hannibal "the Cannibal" Lecter (masterfully played by Anthony Hopkins). In the process, she disturbingly learns more about herself as Dr. Lecter becomes fascinated with her. The two performances from Foster and Hopkins are so brilliant that their scenes together make the best of this stellar film. Hopkins' Lecter is so iconic that everyone knows his "favre beans and a nice chianti" line. He has even topped (or been near the top) of several Greatest Film Villains lists including ones by Entertainment Weekly and the American Film Institute. The supporting cast is a fine ensemble that includes Scott Glenn as Agent Starling's supervisor and Ted Levine (later of TV's Monk) as the psychotic Buffalo Bill. The film was the sleeper hit of 1991 and received 5 Academy Awards, winning what is known as "The Big Five:" Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Actress and Best Adapted Screenplay (becoming the third film to do so).

Next Post: #61

Sunday, July 18, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #63

63. Bonnie and Clyde (1967)

This is a very intriguing film. It is a character study movie that studies villainous characters. Right there the whole traditional story structure is thrown off course when the main protagonists are antagonists. In addition to the juxtaposition of moviemaking traditions, the graphic nature of the violence and hedonism that the lead criminals take part in had never been put on film in that manner before. The fasicnation with these characters, bank robbers Bonnie Parker (Faye Dunaway in a thrilling performance) and Clyde Barrow (Warren Beatty, who I usually am not a fan of, but here is quite good), was so strong that it seeped into the fashion of the time (women started dressing like Dunaway's Bonnie). The leads are both very good (particularly Dunaway) and, while their characters are very amoral, the audience in some way roots for them all the way up to the exciting climax. There are so many elements of this film that are good besides the two leads and the story structure (bad boy meets girl, they rob banks and kill people). The fast-paced direction (by stage and screen legend Arthur Penn) with its quick edits and cuts, powerful photography and jarring sound give this film the chilling nature a story about these people requires. The supporting cast, including a fine turn from Gene Hackman as Clyde's brother, is also very good. It is a great film that by today's standards would be considered tame, but in the late 1960's was quite revolutionary (and fit in with the social unrest of the times).

Next Post: #62

The 100 Best Movies: #64

64. Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)

If I could pick one word to describe this movie, it would be zany. The Monty Python gang certainly knows how to do zany. Now, when you think of the Arthurian legend, fast-paced comedy is not what comes to mind. Only the boys from Monty Python's Flying Circus can do comedic justice to the legend and get away with it. The movie tells the tale (or at least tries to) of King Arthur (Graham Chapman) and his knights on their quest to find the Holy Grail. What ensues are the wild adventures he has as he finds his knights (Sir Lancelot the Brave, Sir Galahad the Chaste, Sir Robin the Not-Quite-So-Brave-As-Sir-Lancelot), comes upon various castles (the insulting French knights and the Castle Anthrax) and meets strange characters (like The Knights Who Say Ni, The Black Knight and the Old Man from Scene 24). I could go on and on repeating line after line that shows why I (and several others) love this film, but if I did, the blog would never end. Suffice it to say, it is one of the funniest films ever and provides a great distraction to those looking for movies about the Camelot legend. Just remember: "Let's not go to Camelot, 'tis a silly place."

Next Post: #63

Saturday, July 17, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #65

65. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937)

The Disney film that started it all. I think for many children (of my generation and older for sure) Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was one of the first animated films we ever saw, or at least the Disney Studio made you feel like it was. The fairy tale itself (thanks in large part to the House of Mouse) is probably the most well-known of tales. The songs, which have been parodied in everything from television sitcoms to within Disney's catalogue itself (see Enchanted), are some of the most hummable of the studio's tunes. The story is a simple one. A vain Queen with a Magic Mirror discovers her stepdaughter has grown more beautiful than she and so sends her servant to kill her (A little harsh for Disney standards, but its source material is Grimm Brothers!). When the servant balks, the young girl runs deep into the forrest where she finds a small cottage. The cottage is the home of the Seven Dwarfs (Can you name them all without consulting Wikipedia?). The Queen discovers Snow White is still alive and insists on settling the matter herself (Apple, anyone?). All is resolved with true love's kiss from Prince Charming himself (sorry for the spoilers, but come on, I know you know this story). The film is so iconic and filled with so many memorable images that you just cannot escape it. From the lovable Diamond-digging Dwarfs to the sweet warbles of the titular heroine, it is part of our childhood lexicon and it belongs there.

Next Post: #64

The 100 Best Movies: #66

66. The Godfather Part II (1974)

Probably one the best (if not the best) sequels in film history, this movie is a phenomenal follow-up to its 1972 predecessor. This movie, at times, doesn't even feel like a sequel. It feels like it can stand on its own, as most sequels should (but often don't). Half of it, because of its focus on the younger Don Vito Coreleone (played marvelously to Oscar-winning effect by Robert De Niro), feels like a prequel. Its the juxtaposition between young Vito's story and Michael Coreleone (played once again to perfection by Al Pacino) that drives this film so well. Plus the movie also has several iconic moments that define The Gofather series: the First Communion sequence (in Vegas!), Michael's hearing and teastimony, young Vito's first ordered hit (the running across the rooftops is still my dad's favorite scene!) and, of course, what I call "The Fredo Kiss," when Michael discovers it is his brother, Fredo, who betrayed him (like The Judas Kiss). The cast, in addition to Pacino and De Niro (two of the best actors of their era), is also just as brilliant including Diane Keaton, Robert Duvall, Talia Shire, John Cazale, Lee Strasberg and Michael V. Gazzo. This film is so good! In fact, there are some (my father is one of them, I am not) who believe this film is better than its predecessor (but I'll talk about that one later in the countdown!).

Next Post: #65

Friday, July 16, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #67

67. Back to the Future (1985)

This is a great film that comes directly from my childhood. I don't think I knew a boy who didn't want to be in the shoes of Marty McFly including myself, my brother and all of our friends. I think I just love stories that play with time. What kid doesn't want to go back in time and see if he can change the past? Michael J. Fox (who I watched every week as Alex P. Keaton on Family Ties) plays the lovable, impish Marty McFly, whose life is not altogether as perfect as he would want it to seem. His family dynamic is less than stellar (his siblings argue constantly and his parents seem to be on the nerdy side), he's not the most popular kid in school, his principal thinks of him as a delinquent and he hangs around the town eccentric, scientist Doc Brown (the fantastic Christopher Lloyd, in a role that seems tailor-made for him). It all begins to change when he gets into Doc's Delorean and he and Doc are thrust back 30 years into the past. There, he befriends his father (and sees how much of a nerd he was then), meets his mother (and has to fight off her affections) and battles the school bully ("MANURE!!!"). The rest of the cast provides great support to the two leads especially Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson in the roles of Marty's parents (both the present and past versions). The story is (if I may) timeless and the sci-fi/action/adventure angle adds excitement to the teen-angst that in the hands of lesser creators and actors would have seemed hammy. The film is just top-notch directed by Robert Zemeckis and produced by Steven Spielberg and it (and its two more-than-adequate sequels) are a great addition to anyone's DVD collection.

Next Post: #66

The 100 Best Movies: #68

68. Shakespeare In Love (1998)

This movie has so many elements that I love: it is set in my favorite historical period (Elizabethan England), it is about my favorite author (William Shakespeare), it has a brilliant ensemble cast and a cleverly conceived screenplay. Shakespeare (deftly played by Joseph Fiennes) is suffering a severe bout of writer's block. He is supposed to be writing a comedy called "Romeo and Ethel, the Pirate's Daughter," but he cannot seem to get the words down on paper (although with that title, who could?). All seems to be lost until he meets Lady Viola du Lessups (the beautiful Gwyneth Paltrow in her Oscar-winning performance), a noblewoman who dreams of being on the stage at a time when women were not allowed on stage. The two are in love at first sight and, for Will, "Romeo and Ethel" becomes Romeo and Juliet, a tragic romance. The movie uses Shakespeare's language quite perfectly and it mirrors the action of the story (i.e. the romance between Will and Viola, the rivalry between London's two theatres: the Curtain and the Rose).

The screenplay is phenomenal considering the two writers never really sat in the same room together. According to film-lore, screenwriter Marc Norman and playwright Tom Stoppard did most of their collaboration by phone (with Norman in LA and Stoppard in London). Stoppard's mark on the work is clear, especially with the Shakespearean scenes (something he had done before adapting Shakespeare's Hamlet for his play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead). In addition to the great screenplay and the charming leads, the supporting cast provides the film with a mixture of drama and comedy. Its an amazing ensemble that includes Geoffrey Rush, Tom Wilkinson, Simon Callow, Rupert Everett and Judi Dench (in an astonishing performance as Queen Elizabeth that garnered her an Oscar, though less than 10 minutes onscreen). There is also Ben Affleck who, surprisingly, is not as miscast as one would think. The film is a pure delight and it won several Academy Awards including Best Picture (beating out Steven Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan, but more on that later).

Next Post: #67

Thursday, July 15, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #69

69. Auntie Mame (1958)

This is just a fun film with a great philosophy. Rosiland Russell repeats her Tony Award-winning stage role as Patrick Dennis' eccentric, bohemian Auntie Mame. This is truly a classic performance (from one of film history's most underrated actresses) that was perfectly captured on film. The story begins with the young Patrick Dennis being brought to live with his aunt after the death of his father in the late 1920's. Mame is wild, fun and completely different from anything Patrick has ever known. The film goes through his life with her from his boyhood all the way up to his college days and his potential marriage to the type of East Coast woman his father always wanted him to marry. The movie is filled with colorful characters and charming supporting performances especially from Forrest Tucker as Mame's southern billionaire beau/husband, Coral Browne as Mame's pretentious actress friend and Peggy Cass (who is hilarious onscreen repeating her stage role) as Mame's frumpy secretary. Mame's eccentric behavior and style stems from her philosophy that "Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!" So it becomes her goal to teach Patrick (and all around her) how to "LIVE!" It is a great message from a fantastic film.

Next Post: #68

The 100 Best Movies: #70

70. The Lion In Winter (1968)

Throughout the 1960's (and into the early 1970's), there seemed to be a slew of films based on the history of the monarchy in England. Some were very successful (like Beckett and A Man For All Seasons), others not as much (like Cromwell). The Lion In Winter is probably my absolute favorite among them. Based on the play by James Goldman (which he cleverly adapted for film), it tells the story of King Henry II (brilliantly played by Peter O'Toole, who had played the same role 4 years earlier in Beckett) and his complex relationships with his sons and with his wife, Eleanor of Aquitane (the astonishing Katharine Hepburn in one of her Oscar-winning roles). Henry, who has imprisoned Eleanor, has decided to hold a Christmas Court, where each of his sons and his wife are brought to his palace so he can decide on who his rightful heir will be. According to tradition (and history), his eldest son Richard (a young Anthony Hopkins) should ascend the throne when Henry dies. Richard is favored by Eleanor but not by Henry. Henry (in this story) seems to favor his youngest, John (played by Nigel Terry). Their middle son, Geoffrey (John Castle), is also just as ambitious and bitter over the favors of his parents. The film has some great cinematography (by Douglas Slocombe) which uses dark lighting to intensify the drama of the characters (it is set in the Dark Ages after all). The movie is a powerful historical drama that gives insight into the England before the Crusades (When king, Richard would play an important part in the Crusades). In addition to the intense screenplay, it is the performances that drive this film. O'Toole and Hepburn each play their parts so well and ignite the screen both separately and together. The supporting cast holds their own especially a young Timothy Dalton in the role of the devious Prince Philip of France. A great film that should be remembered.

Next Post: #69

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #71

71. Gandhi (1982)

There is not really much that I can say about this film except that it is an intriguing character study about a real-life inspiring figure in world history. In Richard Attenborough's sweeping biopic about one of the key players in India's separation from British rule, Sir Ben Kingsley gives a top-notch portrayal of Mohandas K. Gandhi. Gandhi's philosophical ways (he preached about using nonviolent resistance) and his wealth of knowledge were instrumental in mobilizing the colonized Indian people to get out from under the thumb of the British Empire. The film, which is just over 3 hours, covers all of Gandhi's life from his humble beginnings to his tragic assassination, which resulted from the cultural divide between India and Pakistan (still an issue today). The movie also features a very strong supporting cast which includes Martin Sheen, Sir John Gielgud, Sir John Mills and Candice Bergen. But it is Kingsley's performance that drives this film (as it should). It is another role in which the actor just inhabits the part. The film (which one 9 Oscars including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Actor) is an amazing piece to watch, especially for students of history and world figures.

Next Post: #70

The 100 Best Movies: #72

72. All About Eve (1950)

One type of movie I love, if you couldn't tell by some of the films on this list, is the ensemble piece. Sure, I love a movie that has a verifiable star (maybe even two!), but the stronger the entire ensemble is, the stronger the film is. This movie is one of the best examples. Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on a story by Mary Orr, it tells the tale of actress Eve Harrington and how she became the toast of Broadway. The story is told through the perspectives of the other characters: critic Addison DeWitt, writer's wife Karen Richards and rival actress Margo Channing each serve as narrators. I won't spoil the story for those who have not seen it, but suffice it to say, the narrators do not have the most positive opinion of our titular lady. The script is both dramatic and comedic and it does not pull punches. The ensemble cast is first rate. Anne Baxter is the devious Eve, George Sanders as the pompous Addison, Celeste Holm as the sweet Karen and it also features Thelma Ritter, Gary Merrill and (in a brief part) Marilyn Monroe. But the film is most likely (and should be) remembered for the tour-de-force performance that Bette Davis gives as Margo Channing. She becomes the character so much that you see both the power and the insecurities the woman has. My favorite scene is her speech in the car about what it takes to be a woman. Bette Davis doesn't only play Margo Channing, Bette Davis IS Margo Channing! It is an amazing film that won several Academy Awards including Best Picture and Best Director.

Next Post: #71

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #73

73. The Mission (1986)

This is a very powerful and intense film that once you see it, you never forget it. It explores so many different themes of a religious, political and social nature. Set in the 1750's in Spanish settlements in South America (particularly Brazil), Robert De Niro plays a slave hunter who, after murdering his own brother, is convinced to join a jesuit priest (brilliantly played by Jeremy Irons) in his quest to bring Christianity to the natives that dwell in the jungle. De Niro and Irons work together in building a Mission, getting to know the natives (and by extension themselves) and understanding their ways. When Spain cedes the land to Portugal (the Treaty of Madrid), slave hunters begin to arrive to capture the natives. De Niro and Irons become locked in a moral and philosophical quarrel as to how to respond to this threat against their Mission. De Niro reverts back to his hunter ways and organizes a native rebellion towards the oncoming Portuguese, while Irons' deeply religious ways compel him to keep the peace within the Mission and teach the natives tolerance. Both actors are excellent and their characters give their all to protect what they hold dear (physically and spiritually).

This film was directed by Roland Joffe and produced by David Puttnam, who had collaborated on the critically-acclaimed 1984 film The Killing Fields. Joffe uses his knack for exploring different worlds in this movie and gives you the positive and negative of both lead characters. The supporting cast is also quite excellent including Aidan Quinn (as De Niro's brother) and Liam Neeson (as a young priest working with Irons). The film's story and screenplay was by Robert Bolt, whose previous work included the dominating costumed-epics of the 1960's (Lawrence of Arabia, A Man for All Seasons and Doctor Zhivago). The film also has a hauntingly beautiful score by the legendary composer Ennio Morricone. It is an amazing film that, if you have not seen, do so.

Next Post: #72

The 100 Best Movies: #74

74. M*A*S*H (1970)

Director Robert Altman knew what went into a good movie: a superb ensemble cast, a story that could reach a certain audience and a screenplay with an intelligent wit and conversational style. In this film, based on the novel by Richard Hooker (who was a trauma surgeon during the Korean War), the story is about a fictional US Mobile Army Surgical Hospital (or MASH) stationed in Korea. The doctors (the main trio played by Donald Sutherland, Elliott Gould and Tom Skerritt) are disenchanted with the military because of the death they see swirling around them, so they pass their time with crazy antics and extremely non-military activities. Despite their wacky tendancies, they are phenomenal surgeons (most of them). The conflicts arise out of their anti-war sentiments and how they anger some of the more reserved members of the hospital, including Major Frank Burns (Robert Duvall) and Major Margaret Hoolihan (perfectly played by Sally Kellerman). The latter gains the nickname "Hot Lips" after some of the antics of the others cause the two Majors to lose their inhibitions and engage in a night of passion. The screenplay is very sharp, funny and full of jabs at war and governments (both foreign and domestic). That aspect should not surprise people since the screenwriter, Ring Lardner Jr., was among the Hollywood 10, the writers who were blacklisted during the McCarthy Era in the 1950's. It is a classic dark comedy that has become part of Americana (in part thanks to the successful TV series based on the film that ran on CBS from 1972-1983, and is constantly in syndication).

Next Post: #73

The 100 Best Movies: #75

75. Shrek (2001)

This is one of the few Non-Disney animated films on the list and it is a great one to have. Based on William Steig's book about the ogre who becomes a fairy-tale hero, this movie takes the conventions Disney made familiar and turns them on their (mouse)ears. The computer animation rivals Pixar and the voice cast is quite charming. Mike Myers is the titular ogre with a Scottish brogue and Cameron Diaz is the beautiful (yet mysterious) Princess Fiona. But the two highlights are John Lithgow, perfectly cast as the antagonist Lord Farquaad, and Eddie Murphy, who steals the film as Shrek's annoying sidekick Donkey. While bitterness can be read between the lines of its creation (DreamWorks exec Jeffrey Katzenberg was fired in the early '90's by then Disney chief Michael Eisner), I look at it more as the studio wedging its way into the niche that Disney had carved so well and putting them on par with the Disney company. So on par that it won the very first Best Animated Feature Film Academy Award (beating Disney/Pixar's Monsters Inc.). Its a great film that is enjoyable for both kids and adults.

Next Post: #74

Monday, July 12, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #76

76. Gladiator (2000)

From one great director to another and this one also has a leading man that complements the director's style as much as the previous one does. Russell Crowe and director Ridley Scott have established a working relationship in the last decade that is comparative to that of De Niro and Scorsese. Gladiator was their first of five collaborations and their most successful (critically and financially). It is a historical epic film in the grand scale (likened to Spartacus and Quo Vadis?), but this film has more than just "epic-ness." It has action, intrigue, drama, romance and even a bit of mystery. The plot is so unabashedly epic and so unapologetically cliched (most of the story can feel like deja-vu), although one can do nothing but respect it. Scott puts these conventions in your face and he does not shy away from them. The opening battle scene is one the best ever captured on film. Crowe's Oscar-winning performance as the soldier Maximus who becomes the best gladiator is powerful, raw and fascinating. The supporting cast is solid and amazing. Joaquin Phoenix is extremely icky and vicious as the vainglorious emperor. Connie Nielsen gives the film heart as the villain's put-upon sister. Plus there are some other minor cast members who have proven themselves elsewehere like Djimon Honsou and Derek Jacobi. And three actors who have since passed away counted this one amongst their last films: David Hemmings, Richard Harris and Oliver Reed (who died during filming). This is a truly great film and did not go unnoticed at the Academy Awards winning Best Picture and Best Actor. NOTE: Just in case nobody noticed, this is an EPIC film!

Next Post: #75

The 100 Best Movies: #77

77. Raging Bull (1980)

Martin Scorsese is one of America's finest directors with a compendium of great films to prove it (Mean Streets, Taxi Driver, The Last Temptation of Christ, GoodFellas, The Departed, etc.). He has molded and extracted brilliant performances from actors like Harvey Keitel, Ray Liotta and Leonardo DiCaprio. In Raging Bull, he does his best with one of the best, Robert De Niro. De Niro gives a tour-de-force Oscar-winning portrayal of boxer Jake La Motta with his usual method acting edge. Both actor and director complement each other so well in this film. The story and characters (based on La Motta's semi-autobiography) are each riveting, especially Joe Pesci as Jake's little brother. The movie is so well-constructed that at times it feels like Grand Opera (without the music). The emotions are heightened, the adrenaline rushes and the stakes are so high for each player. The film even opens to the sounds of an Italian aria. To me, this is Scorsese's (and De Niro's) opus and is a perfect film.

Next Post: #76

The 100 Best Movies: #78

78. Beetlejuice (1988)

Director Tim Burton knows how to create a world. His visuals always come from that dark place and yet somehow have splashes of color. This movie is no exception. The film tells the story of an ordinary couple (Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin) who die in a car accident. What follows is how the ghostly couple must deal with the yuppies who have moved into their charming country home and proceed to change everything about it. As ghosts, they believe they can scare the family away, but to no avail. They try to hire the title character, billed as "The Ghost with the Most", but he is a little much for their taste. Strange idea for a movie but it is Tim Burton and it is a comedy. And Burton fills the movie with his "stock company" of players like Winona Ryder, Jeffrey Jones and Catherine O'Hara (who steals the movie as the image-obsessed yuppie wife). Then, of course, there is Michael Keaton in the titular role. Keaton is thrilling, funny and all-over-the-place, which works for the character. And there is composer Danny Elfman's score. Elfman mixes his usual brand of chilling themes with the Harry Belafonte songs and proves he is master of his domain (insert Seinfeld joke here). One of the most hilarious scenes in the film is the dinner party where the guests (led by the amazing Ms. O'Hara) are forced to perform Belafonte's "Day-O." The movie was followed by a successful Saturday morning animated series, which was actually pretty good, but not as great as the original.

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Sunday, July 11, 2010

The 100 Best Movies: #79

79. Murder On the Orient Express (1974)

This movie is based on one my most favorite books. Seriously, I think it is in my Top 10 list of Novels. Agatha Christie was one of the best writers in her genre and her greatest character has to be the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot. So it was natural that her most successful work would be turned into a film. The author herself was slightly disappointed with the film treatment her novel got, but that was because of the changes they made to suit the all-star cast the producers obtained. Even though the film is slightly different from the novel, director Sidney Lumet does a brilliant job of giving the audience the same chilling and mysterious feeling the novel has. The look of the film (with gorgeous production and costume design by Broadway legend Tony Walton) is so enchanting that it takes you into the world of the Orient Express and its mystique. The lighting and photography (by Geoffrey Unsworth, who had done similar work in Bob Fosse's Cabaret) is especially thrilling in the climax. The cast is perfect in each role from Albert Finney (as Christie's stalwart detective) to Lauren Bacall (as the prima donna actress) to Ingrid Bergman (in an Oscar-winning role as a religious nursemaid). Each performance is an important piece of Christie's intriguing puzzle. It is a great adaptation of one of the best novels of the 20th century.

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The 100 Best Movies: #80

80. Titanic (1997)

I know, I know, there are several reasons to hate this film: the "Leo" phenom, that damned Celine Dion song, the fact that James Cameron is still an asshole. I know all that, but I just can't hate this film. When I judge it as a movie alone (putting aside the hype and biases), its a pretty good film. It has solid performances from a charming, even great cast. Its visuals are enticing and its story (while very formulaic and full of cliches) is fairly decent. Sure, it won so many awards you wanted to throttle it until it died and yes, that "My Heart Will Go On" followed people wherever they went (literally, that song was everywhere!). But despite that, this film is better than the credit it is sometimes given (not as good as the hype made it, but not many films do live up to the hype).

The story begins with a group of deep sea treasure hunters (led by Bill Paxton) searching the Atlantic for the HMS Titanic. They begin to find debris when an old woman (former silent screen star Gloria Stuart) contacts them claiming to be a survivor of the Titanic disaster. Her name is Rose (flashback to her younger self, the always great Kate Winslet) and, boy, does she have a tale to tell. She came from a family of wealth and was sailing on the great ship with her mother and future fiancee (brooding Billy Zane). On the boat, she meets stowaway Jack Dawson (Leonardo DiCaprio) and the romance begins. They are from two different worlds but thier love strives to survive anything. SPOILER ALERT: And then the ship hits the iceberg. The second half of the 3 hour movie deals mostly with the sinking of the ship and shows how the two did everything they could to live through it. SPOILER ALERT: Unfortunately, Jack couldn't make it but Rose did and was able to start life anew. Full of cliches, yes, but it is one of the few 3 hour-plus films I like.

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